Tips for Lean Managers

The Best Visual Control in the World

By Jon Miller Updated on February 26th, 2019

Day two of kaizen instruction on the shop floor, I came across the best visual control in the world. All of these years it’s been right in front of me. It’s the change in the human face known as the smile.

The people that I am working with this week all have different facial expressions. When a person’s expression is reserved, it’s hard to tell if they understand, are agreeing or disagreeing, would rather be someplace else, or are really excited about what we are doing. But then they smile, or even laugh! Now there’s a visual control that feels good. You know you have accomplished something when it happens.

Some people are calibrated differently, and may smile less or have a “normal” or “normal-happy” expression that is not the smiley one above. This is OK. Sometimes “good” looks different for visual controls in different processes. The key as an instructor is to actively seek out this visual control and understand what is “normal” but kaizen even that towards a smile.

Those of us with a strong technical mind tend to focus on solving the problem or reveling in the data, forgetting the people. Use the best visual control in the world and you will get more done.

Five reasons why the smile is the best visual control in the world:

1. It’s easy to do
2. It’s genetically coded into us
3. It’s a global standard
4. It’s has health benefits
5. It doesn’t cost you anything

The lack of smiles during kaizen activity or kaizen instruction is an abnormality, in visual management terms. Even for people who do not smile easily, or in cultures where stoic facial expression is the norm, this is true. No smiles during kaizen is an abnormality because kaizen is fun, creative and empowering to people. If people are not smiling, you are doing something wrong. It’s unpleasant change.

Kaizen is not all about the results or dramatic changes to the workplace, it’s about people. Smiles are a good indicator of the sustainability of your kaizen results and your entire Lean effort. So during your next kaizen, look for the best visual control in the world.

  1. Ron

    April 17, 2007 - 6:14 pm

    Ahhh… I think I know where you are this week Jon. But I won’t blow your cover.

  2. Alberto

    July 17, 2007 - 11:38 am

    This is a GREAT article, reflects the most important factor about kaizen’s sustainability… PEOPLE!

  3. Aza

    July 8, 2008 - 9:46 am

    Hi Jon;
    I strongly believe in this. Without a happy workforce lean will go no where. This really is a good visual measurement.

  4. Yogesh Vaghani

    September 7, 2008 - 4:33 am

    This is wonderful. You see it everyday but don,t link it. It is a great idea because employee satisfaction is equally important as customer satisfaction.So Smile does indicate healthy atmosphere in the organisation

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